Thursday, May 18, 2023
I’ve been watching the kid’s version of the Great British Baking Show and it’s cracking me up like nobody’s business. These kids are hilarious. I get a kick out of how shy they are about winning, how proud they are that their sponge cakes rose, how excited about what’s happening no matter what it is, how completely unpretentious.
I especially get a kick out of the ones who are a complete disaster, who drop the entire container of flour into the bowl, spoon and all, or say things like, “Oops, I was only supposed to add one tablespoon of peanut butter but I added the whole jar.”
Is it wrong that I can relate to the ten year old who forgot to put the baking powder AND the flour into his cake, so he took it out of the oven to mix it in before continuing to bake? I think not.
Or the kid who was too short to properly reach the freezer so she had to lift her tray up above her and ended up with pastry falling onto her head and down her apron?
I mean, that’s me on any given day.
You know, like opening the refrigerator door and the entire shelf flying off for no apparent reason. Glass shattered, horseradish flying everywhere. It’s like there are pixies or imps or something, lurking in my cabinets and waiting to wreck mischief.
It made me wonder what I cooked as a kid, since apparently all I want to talk about is food and all I want to do is eat.
Have I mentioned that I’m drinking protein shakes for lunch now, and how disgusting protein shakes are? What was I thinking buying protein powder at all? I should know better by now not to buy into everyone’s insane glee about the most absurd things.
Do you know where you can get protein? Food. Actual, tasty food. And it includes other things your body actually needs, like fiber and vitamins and minerals.
Why did I think fake manufactured isolated protein was a good idea? Because some insane person on the internet repeated whatever the insane person before them said, and I believed I needed “grams of protein” more than I needed actual nutrition.
I’m only drinking it at this point because it cost fifty bucks and I’m not throwing it away. 27 servings in the container. Feels like about a hundred. I have to be at least halfway done, don’t I? Don’t I?
Where was I… cooking.
I don’t think I cooked anything as a kid. Other than cracking eggs and rolling out cookie dough, I have no recollection of being part of the cooking experience. Maybe I stirred the sauce a few times. I sure as heck didn’t get to use anything sharper than a butter knife. Points to my mother for foreseeing and preempting that disaster.
It impresses me that these kids know what a Genoise sponge is and I don’t even think I knew how to use a can opener.
I can’t really tell a story about cooking if I never cooked, can I?
I remember when my brother Brian used to make me vegetable people for my after school snack. You know, carrots for arms, olives for eyes, that sort of thing. We didn’t document every bleeding second of our lives back then, we just actually lived them, so I have no photos of this vegetable art. It’s really a shame. He worked so painstakingly on them and was so delighted to present them to me. I may not have been dying for a stick of celery after school but I ate every bit of those wonderful creations.
And that’s about the extent of what I can remember about cooking until I got married.
There has to be something, no?
A memory with a blender. A whisk. A potato masher.
Most of my cooking memories are from my adult life and the most vivid ones are things that went horribly awry. I mean, it’s easy to think of a thousand delicious things I’ve cooked, and some fun experiments like the croquembouche and the beef Wellington.
But cooking good things is a pretty normal part of my life. It’s when the disasters happen that they’re memorable, not because I’m trying to harp on negative things but because they stand out so brilliantly.
Like the time I sliced my hand with the mandoline. I avoided buying a mandoline for…. oh, 50 years. They seemed scary and dangerous and I know myself. I am not a careful or neat person in the kitchen. EVERY day is a disaster in my kitchen, so when I say “disaster” it has to be really serious for it to make an impression.
On any given day I’ll drop a bucket of sugar, slice the tip of my finger open, forget to turn off the stove and melt the nonstick surface right off the pan.
But the mandoline wanted to be in my kitchen. A particular recipe caught my attention, a vegetable tian, this ring of zucchini and tomato and onion sliced thin and stacked vertically around a pie plate. It was really beautiful and I had to make it so I sucked it up and bought a mandoline.
It came with a hand guard.
One might think that if the manufacturer of a product was smart enough to include a giant barrier between your hand and a sharp blade, the consumer of that product would use it.
Well, I did use it. And I made the vegetable tian, which wasn’t as delicious as it was impressive so if I ever do it again I will definitely do something about the flavor. But it was overall a success.
I made potato chips. I made carrot chips. I sliced apples for pie.
Then one day I was multitasking, which is usually when all the best disasters happen. I was talking to my mother on the phone while I was cooking, so my brain was mostly on talking to her about cooking (which is what we talk about 97.3% of the time) and not on doing the actual cooking.
Without thinking about it I picked up a sweet potato and started slicing.
Within about three seconds I was looking at a potato more red than orange and wondering what had gone wrong.
The blade was so sharp I literally didn’t even feel it slice the side of my hand off. But when I looked at it, you could tell exactly what had gone wrong.
Things that went through my head:
Oh my god, I need to put my hand back on before Ralph finds out and has a heart attack, and Maybe I’d better call my mother back later.
Unless something blatantly obvious happens, I try not to panic my mother. I was on the phone with her when I fell out of the attic (remember that one?) and it was pretty obvious that something had happened when she heard a scream and a clattering followed by an inhumanly loud thud. Kind of had to explain that one.
But since I saw more than felt the cut, I did not say whoops, I seem to have sliced my hand off, gotta go. I just said let me call you back in a minute and went into the bathroom where I used about two rolls of paper towels trying to remedy the situation.
I managed to get it under control before casually telling Ralph I cut myself.
I mean, he was going to notice the bandage.
Anyway, I self-glued the side of my hand back on with some spit and antibacterial gel, it turned into a giant welt, then eventually subsided into the scar it is today.
How does the memory of beef Wellington compare to that?
I guess the word of the day is cooking. Or disaster. Or both. I guess I’m talking about food again. I didn’t get this far to back down now.
Haven’t had too many disasters like the mandoline one, thank goodness.
Other people in my life have had their own cooking disasters.
I remember the single time my father decided to bake us a cake. He made it for the Fourth of July, and forgot the water. It’s memory is a thing of family legend. Flat, dense as a stone, but we ate every bit of it.
Maybe I take after my father, after all.
I only remember him tackling a food challenge a couple of times and most of them have been… interesting.
I remember when we got a food processor for the first time, he tried to make mashed potatoes in it. He was the masher in the house, pounding those potatoes into a mountain of buttery fluff. Nobody mashed potatoes like dad.
So when he put the potatoes in the food processor, it’s like all the benevolent powers in the universe became outraged and punished him by turning out potato glue instead.
I mean, if you can imagine pouring a bottle of marginally less white Elmer’s glue onto your plate and then eating it while it oozed between the tines of your fork, that’s what the food processed potatoes were like.
Points for experimenting, though. And a mistake I never had to make for myself.
I really love cooking, though. I feel a little like that eight year old kid who got a fist bump from the judges every time I serve a plate of pasta and someone says wow, that’s really good. I also feel a little like that ten year old kid who said well that didn’t go to plan when the cake rolls frosting-first onto the floor.
You have to do these things with a sense of humor even while you’re cursing the imps in the pantry. They insist on dropping the box of rice from a top shelf and somehow they manage to make entire containers of oats disappear for hours at a time before magically reappearing them in the same place you looked ten times.
I haven’t finished watching the Baking Show finals but I’ve been enjoying episodes when I get on the Peloton so I can burn off the vicarious calories. I’ll take a bunch of little kids making illusion cakes over drinking a protein shake any day. It reminds me that there is joy in the world, even in the face of disaster.
Photo: my beautiful tian, super healthy but in need of some extra seasoning. It would be really good with a side of cheesecake.